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A Lighter Touch for ‘Gabriel’s Fire’

TV or not TV. . . .

NEW LOOK: Upcoming changes in “Gabriel’s Fire,” the ABC series that brought James Earl Jones an Emmy Award nine days ago, indicate TV’s retreat from heavy dramas this fall.

For the new season, the title has been switched to “Pros & Cons,” and the show reportedly will have a lighter touch as Jones, who played an ex-convict turned investigator, gets a new partner, Richard Crenna.

What’s more, the locale, formerly Chicago, now will be Los Angeles to give the series a brighter look. Viewer-friendly, you might say.

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Happy days are here again.

ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT: Even TV’s supposedly hard-nosed news shows are getting happier as the networks desperately try to win back viewers.

Item: CBS’ “48 Hours,” anchored by Dan Rather, has an hour on Wednesday titled “Survival of the Funniest,” which “goes behind the scenes of stand-up comedy.” Surely a subject that’s been on everybody’s lips. No less than five CBS correspondents were assigned to this project.

Item: CBS is also planning a two-hour, prime-time, fall outing of “60 Minutes” that offers excerpts from its segments on famous entertainers, including Elizabeth Taylor, Jackie Gleason, Judy Garland and Paul Simon.

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THE BABE: NBC’s long-awaited drama, “Babe Ruth,” with Stephen Lang as the great slugger, airs Oct. 6, as the baseball season moves into its climactic phase.

And the network recalls some incredible statistics about Ruth’s 1927 New York Yankees in raising the old question of whether it was the best baseball team that ever was:

The team batting average for the season was .307. Ruth hit .356, Lou Gehrig .373, Bob Meusel .337, Earle Combs .356 and Tony Lazzeri .309. Ruth had a slugging average of .772. And the team’s slugging average was .489.

I hate the Yankees. And I wouldn’t trade the memory of Kirk Gibson’s one transcendental baseball moment for all of those statistics.

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AFTERMATH: This year’s Emmy Awards are history, but let’s tie up some loose ends:

* It’s absolutely idiotic to continue presenting the guest acting Emmys at the non-televised craft awards. Some of TV’s finest performers are obliterated from recognition on the prime-time show, such as the late Colleen Dewhurst, who was honored for her role as Candice Bergen’s mother in “Murphy Brown.”

* Let’s stop all the double-talk about TV academy rules and make a brilliant show like “The Simpsons” eligible for the best-comedy category. Here’s what the academy, which rules the Emmy Awards, says: “Any program that is more than 65% animation is considered an animated program and must enter the animation category.” Hey, guys, this is show business--not the commodities market.

* It was perfectly criminal that the often-nominated Blair Brown never won the best comedy actress Emmy for the now-concluded TV classic “The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd.” But many TV viewers will never forget the wondrous glow that she and the series’ creator, Jay Tarses, gave to the medium with every outing.

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* Let’s end the myth that the Big Three networks only counterprogram the Emmys when they are on Fox TV. The networks have never had much respect for their own industry’s most prestigious awards. Or have you forgotten how--before Fox TV even existed--ABC tried to undermine the Emmys in 1978 by counterprogramming it with the pilot of its “Star Wars” imitation, “Battlestar Galactica”?

In another example--also before Fox TV was created--ABC tried to shoot down the Emmys in 1984 with the highly publicized debut of “Paper Dolls.”

* One possible reason that Fox did surprisingly well in the ratings with this year’s Emmy show is that it now is in the top 100 markets. It recently reached that level by adding an affiliate station in Baton Rouge, La. The young Fox network still has a number of weak stations, but it does have 137 affiliates overall.

WHO’S GOT J. R.?: “Dallas” is gone from CBS, but Larry Hagman & Company return on TNT cable Sept. 16 when episodes of the classic soaper begin weekday reruns at 7 a.m.--from the very beginning of the series.

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PRO: One of our favorite actors, Ray Stricklyn, gives a nifty performance at 10 tonight in a moody, mysterious episode of “Veronica Clare” on Lifetime cable.

THE SPORTING LIFE: Bopping around the dial, we get the feeling that the Dodgers and Tommy Lasorda are getting ultra slim, fast.

NEWS AT ELEVEN: There isn’t any.

TRIBUTE: There’ll be a memorial service for Harry Reasoner on Thursday at Lincoln Center’s 930-seat Alice Tully Hall in New York. Those scheduled to eulogize the CBS newsman include jazz pianist Hank Jones, a friend of Reasoner’s; ABC sportscaster Jim McKay; and three of Reasoner’s “60 Minutes” colleagues--Mike Wallace, Andy Rooney and producer Don Hewitt.

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ON THE JOB: A tip of the hat to radio station KCRW-FM (89.9) for its coverage of the Soviet upheaval--a vastly superior perspective on the story than any TV station in town.

“COLUMBO” QUIZ: The Peter Falk classic debuted 20 years ago this Sept. 15, but how much do you really know about TV’s greatest cop? Like, for instance, what does he drive? (A Peugeot, license plate 044-APD.) When did he meet his wife? (In high school.) And what’s the name of his dog? (“Dog.”) Oh, just one more thing. . . . What’s his favorite food? (Chili, hot dogs.)

BEING THERE: “Anyone who can’t keep a secret can’t keep a friend."--Uncle Martin (Ray Walston) in “My Favorite Martian.”

Say good night, Gracie. . . .

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